Monday, July 25, 2011

Just call me Giada

I’ve always been a picky eater. My mom probably knows this best after having spent the past 23 years trying to get me to eat less bread and potatoes and more vegetables and meat. When it comes to food I am like your average 4 year old. My favorites are mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken tenders, and pizza. To be fair I haven’t really tried anything else. Now, I will lie to you and tell you I have no problem trying anything, but I just don’t like it, but in truth you will be lucky for me to put a spoonful of anything new anywhere near my mouth. I blame this on green beans.

Green beans are like the staple vegetable in my family. My brother and sister love them. Green bean casserole at the thanksgiving dinner is like their highlight. I had green beans on my plate more times than not when I was a kid and when green beans were on the table it meant war. My parents insisted that I eat them. The rule at our table was as many bites as your age. My parents would monitor my bites to make sure they were legitimate. If I tried to get away with a nibble I would have to finish that nibble and try again. This often meant that I would end up eating the whole serving of green beans on my plate. My dad would say, “You would like them if you really tried them.” But I didn’t. I tried them and I hated them. And I still do. I think this is where I made the correlation that if I think I don’t like something I probably won’t, even if I have never tried it.

In my mind all vegetables taste something like green beans. Anything that looks like fish must taste like fish sticks, and I certainly don’t like those. Anything jiggly must taste like jello, and that is just gross. Somewhere along the way my parents gave in and stopped making me try things and I have avoided doing so since. At restaurants I find one thing I like and I stick to it. I have a specific meal I order at every place and my whole family knows it. I never felt like I was missing out on anything at all.

My relationship with food started to change right around the time I graduated college. I didn’t know it then, but I found a spark of interest in the culinary world that would forever change how I look at food. That summer I became hooked on one of those cake cooking shows. I should first say I hate cakes. I have never been able to eat the icing. It is just too much sugar for me. My sister and I rarely had cakes at our birthday parties. She opted for root beer floats and I loved the chocolate and peanut ice cream pizza from Dairy Queen (why did you stop making those DQ?). I loved this show, though, because the cakes were not food, they were art. One of my best friends was getting married and my mom was putting together a bridal shower for her. One of the requests that my mom had for me was that I bake a cake for the shower. My mom does not enjoy baking so my sister and I threw together cookies and brownies on occasion for different parties. Up until this point I rarely set foot in the kitchen to do more than heat up food or throw dishes in the dishwasher, but I decided that I was going to make a cake like the ones on TV. (Those of you that know me well know that I am prone to big ideas and elaborate projects out of the blue).

I went to the craft store and the grocery store and bought all the things I would need to make a two tier cake and a fondant covered cake. I perused tons of recipes for cakes that looked delicious. I settled on a two tier heart cake that was malted chocolate and a little chocolate cake covered in white fondant with green and brown polka dots all over it and a little brown bow tied at the bottom. And surprisingly, the cakes turned out great. Nowhere neat perfect, but completely edible and adorable. It was enough motivation for me to try again. I started making cakes and cupcakes for every occasion I could think of. I didn’t stop until my beautiful cake for fourth of july filled with strawberries and blueberries accidentally ended up in a pile on the kitchen floor. After that highly entertaining catastrophe I decided to take a break form the world of cake making. Even though I hadn’t baked in a while, the desire to learn how to do more stuck with me. I even looked into culinary school before committing to the Peace Corps. I became so interested in the art of cooking.

Now, if you are still reading, you must be wondering where this blog post is going. I have given you this back story to show how amazing it is that Kazakhstan has gotten me hooked on food again. Since living here I have learned to try new things in an amazing way. I can no longer judge a thing based on whether I think I may or may not like it. Living with multiple host families and attending more than a handful of parties I have been forced to try so many new types of foods and the results are startling. I had this long list of food that I thought for sure I didn’t like that is getting shorter by the second. My favorite meal here that my host mom makes is stuffed green peppers! Who would have thought that I, Emily picky-eater Johnson would love green peppers? And that is not the only thing. I love vegetables and fruits of all sorts that I wouldn’t even try before. I am so excited to learn how to make things and learn new recipes here and my host mom is more than excited to teach me. I have also had cooking thrust upon me. Before I had the choice to buy a frozen pizza or run through the closest Taco Bell, but here every meal is made at the stove with nothing from a package. I love to stroll through the bazaar and look at the seasonal produce that is available. I like looking up new recipes to try with the ingredients I can find here. I love that a microwave is not included in the necessary appliances here. I am also amazed at the ability I have to actually make something. I always said the reason my sister and I didn’t cook was because we weren’t good at it or we didn’t really know how, but I was mistaken. I know how to make so much more than I thought I did. Years of watching my mom at the stove have taught me more than enough to create a great meal. The adventures outdoors, meeting new people, and learning a new language are all fascinating parts of this experience, but by far my favorite part of being in Kazakhstan is the culinary adventure it is taking me on.

So if anyone has anyone recipes they want to share, I would love to get them! just leave a comment here or shoot me an email. i would love your salsa recipe mrs. susnhine! (i know this is like the 121th time i have asked, but i promise i won't lose it this time!)

back to,

Friday, July 15, 2011


Apparently my blog is turning into a monthly update. Sorry about that, I think once i get regular internet I may be able to update more often. It’s tough because the internet cafĂ© has blogger and all the proxy sites blocked so i can only update using my little beeline usb modem at my house, but it is soooooo slow. & to be honest i haven’t been quite sure what to write.

part of keeping my blog requires me to keep my audience, both local and at home, in mind at all times. those of you that i speak with on a regular basis, or that get an update from my mom on a regular basis know that the past two months here at site have not been the easiest. if i’m being completely honest, my time in general here in Kaz has not been the easiest. but even during training with the earthquakes and sickness i haven’t really struggled like i have been struggling here in Zhez. which is why i have been avoiding this blog. i didn’t really want to post until i had something worthwhile and motivating to post, but i am just now beginning to see that it is quite possible that my service here may be strung together by the small accomplishments amongst the much larger mountains i am climbing. i am hoping that things will begin to even out a bit soon, but for right now i am just trying to keep my head down, one foot in front of the other.

a week ago i got the chance to help out with an all-girls sleep away camp here in Zhez. it is called camp G.L.O.W (girls leading our world) and is a camp put on by pcvs all over the world. the camp was really fun, but so exhausting. i now have a greater appreciation for all the camp counselors and youth ministers that took care of me while i was away at camp for all those summers of my youth. i had no idea. our camp was filled with daily kickboxing, games of all sorts, sessions on important subjects like self-esteem, budgeting, leadership, love, healthy relationships, and goal planning. we also had nightly events like a volunteer fashion show, where the girls dressed us up, a lip syncing concert, a talent show, and a disco. overall the camp was a huge success. the girls here really don’t get this information anywhere else so it is important to discuss these sensitive topics. they also don’t get the opportunity to get away from home for anything like this so the girls loved hanging out and making friends. we had a total of 45 girls and nine volunteers. this week really gave me a boost of energy that i had been needing and helped me to get a glimpse of the type of volunteer projects i will be able to take on during my two years here.

other than camp GLOW life here has been slow. really slow. i am having trouble filling the hours of each day. Most volunteers spend their summers traveling around. Summer is filled with camps and volunteers travel back and forth to help out with each other’s camps. Also, this is the time of year for edu volunteers to take vacations. My group, kaz 23, is a guinea pig training group. We are the first group in kaz to enter our sites during the summer. Typically volunteers get to Kazakhstan in august and reach their sites in November. This means that the school year has already begun and within weeks of arriving at site they are teaching full-time and don’t get a break until the school year ends during the summer. One of the problems with this schedule is that volunteers aren’t around for the full school year. They are trying to remedy this with our group. It is great in that I get to start the school year with my counterpart which means that I can set my expectations for the year upfront and make changes from the beginning instead of trying to change things once the school year has already begun. I am discovering that the major setback is getting to site in the summer.

It is a peace corps wide rule that volunteers are not allowed to travel from their site during their first 3 months. That means the entire summer for us. With school being out it means we have no classes to teach and it is too late to try and start a camp or any other major project. Peace corps kaz foresaw this problem and gave us permission to travel within our region to help out with other camps so we would have something to do. The problem is the peace corps kaz did not tell the current volunteers that they would be having a group of 50 vols traveling around the country to crash their camps. Camps are a great excuse for vols to invite their friends to come socialize with them for a week, so most of the current vols have already filled up their camps with their friends. That means that there are many of us kaz 23s that have no camps to go to. So this summer I have only been to one camp, the camp glow at my site. My days are filled with nothing minus the occasional one hour English club.

I can see that coming to site in November is hard because you are just tossed into the mix, but I can’t help feeling jealous. For these vols they are so busy from the second they get to site. I can imagine that by the time they get a break to think about how uncomfortable or exhausted they were in another country, they had already put in so much time that it was easy to just keep truckin’ along. On the other hand, I wake up each day around 11, eat lunch, watch a movie, read a book, occasionally venture out to wander around the city, and then come back for dinner and watch tv until bedtime. & lately with the 100 degree weather it is harder and harder to venture outside. I spend each day completely bored out of my mind, with plenty of time to evaluate why I am here. It is a hard question to answer when I am currently filling my days with things I could be doing in the states, and I would be able to do them there in much more comfort. I just keep telling myself that September will change everything, but it is hard to stare down 60 days without a single thing to do. & so far I am making a judgment of my site and role as a volunteer here that is based on situations that will not be the norm for me. I sometimes worry that when September does roll around I may be more disappointed than relieved. & then at that point I will have already put in 6-7 months here and it would make it much harder to walk away. I can only hope at this point that the summer will pass and that the fall will bring with it new challenges and excitement that make it worth the current struggles.

So, I hope this explains the lack of updates. I am just not doing anything. Which means there is nothing to write about. I am going to start thinking of the small accomplishments of each day as the big things I am doing here. Hopefully with this mindset I will have more stories to share soon. (:

Miss you all,